Meet Featured Grower Leslie Hanawahine.
Leslie serves as Farm Manager for Pono Pacific Land Management, helping to oversee the 468-acre Kuilima Farm owned by Turtle Bay Resort, one of only 100 of Hawaii’s 7,300 farms to be certified under U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) food safety guidelines.
A native of O‘ahu’s town of Kailua, she is dedicated to growing delicious and sustainable food for the local community and for the nearby Turtle Bay Resort. Kuilima is a mixed farm, with traditional soil growing and a solar-powered hydroponic facility. It produces over 1,200 pounds of lettuce greens per month. In her role, she and her team farm a diversified crop on 25 acres of Kuilima Farm and work with other partner farmers on the land who are all committed to Pono Pacific’s goals of conservation, education, and sustaining life to uplift Hawai‘i’s economy and community while restoring natural resources.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your role on the farm. What do your day to day responsibilities look like?
I was born and raised on the island of O’ahu, Hawai’i. Most of my life has been spent on the Windward side of our island. I am a mother of 3, and grandmother of 3 sweet girls and they are my hobbies.
Days at Kuilima Farm start at 5 am. I always start the day by giving our farm crew of 7 a text with our tasks for the day. If we aren’t harvesting, we are in the Hydroponic Greenhouse or in our fields hand-weeding, planting or fertilizing. I spend one day a week training our staff on different aspects of our farm operations (currently it’s identifying insects and discussing their life cycle).
Anybody who is a farmer knows that each day comes with a surprise, so I am always observing and have multiple alternatives set up to help us overcome any challenges.
When did you first come to start working with hydroponics and controlled environment agriculture? Was that an initial part of your farming journey, or something you were exposed to later?
My first experience with hydroponics and controlled agriculture environment has been with Kuilima Farm. I started here in July 2022.
My previous farming experience was conventional; however, I also did a couple of years doing Certified Organic Korean Natural Farming for a one-acre greenhouse. The Hydroponic growing was something new for me and it’s been great learning about it from my AmHydro rep Rudy Clark-Luera! He is super knowledgeable and has made this hydroponic journey so easy for me!
What’s the biggest piece of advice you’d share with someone who is just starting out in hydroponic farming?
Document your practices. Thay will help you problem-solve in the future. I would also advise to have fun and if something fails, it’s ok, there’s always a lesson to be learned. You can save it in your farmer toolbox to help you in the future.
Some farmers and consumers question whether hydroponics can grow produce as effectively and deliciously as soil. What would you say to people who have these doubts?
Hydroponics can grow produce faster than any conventional or organic farming method. For us at Kuilima Farm, growing Hydroponics whole head lettuce couldn’t be done with consistency without our AmHydro Hydroponic Greenhouse system. Our lettuce heads are always tender and mild, exactly how our Executive Chef Lyle Kaku of Alaia at Turtle Bay Resort loves it!
What’s your favorite part about running a hydroponic farm?
My favorite part about running a hydroponic farm is learning something new and being able to count on the hydroponic system’s consistent growth time. Also, the flexibility to have protocols set makes it super easy for anyone to jump in and work in the Greenhouse without too much difficulty. If we run in to any difficulties, we can quickly figure out what happened and take corrective measures. My absolute favorite aspect is no pests and it’s so clean!
What has it been like to work with AmHydro?
It’s been great to work with Rudy Clark-Luera— without his help I don’t think I would have been as quick to fully
understand hydroponics and reach our maximum growing capacity. I also love the tutorials that are available.